Even though his Miami Marlins are no threat to play in baseball’s postseason, their powerhouse right fielder, Giancarlo Stanton, was the favorite to be National League Most Valuable Player, with his 37 home runs and 105 RBI and three weeks of games remaining.
But then came what at first looked like a routine 88-mph fastball from Milwaukee’s Mike Fiers.
To Stanton, the pitch was coming in chest high on the inside of the plate. He felt compelled to swing at it. But then the pitch veered sharply up and farther in. Before he could turn away, the ball struck Stanton below the left eye, fracturing multiple bones.
Fiers was fined an undisclosed amount, as he was assessed some of the blame for a bench-clearing brawl that followed the Stanton HBP. Although angry accusations issued from the Marlins’ dugout, it appears the pitcher was sincere when he fell back on the cliché that’s used whenever a batter is beaned: “It got away from me.”
A thrown baseball usually sinks; rarely does it rise in the sudden manner this one did, like a fast knuckleball. From all indications by the batter and the catcher, there was no intent to throw inside. Much less to hit Stanton in the face.
Nonetheless, this will be a tragedy if the 24-year-old Stanton, one of the sport’s three or four greatest young stars, fails to make a full recovery.
The good news is that there was no fracture of the orbit bone, which encases the eye. What’s unsettling is history that tells us this type of injury does not always heal completely.
Houston’s Dickie Thon and Minnesota’s Kirby Puckett both suffered injury similar to Stanton’s, and though they played again, it was never at the All-Star level they had attained before their faces were rearranged.
Stanton’s injuries, though not initially requiring surgery, are considered career-threatening.
His untimely exit puts the MVP award in play for a cast of talented but not extraordinary game-changing players. Traditionally the MVP is the best player on one of the best teams. This year that might be Andrew McCutchen of the recently rising Pittsburgh Pirates.
McCutchen, 27, is not a stats leader, but he has a well rounded game: power (22 homers), run-making (75 driven, 80 scored), speed (17 stolen bases). He would have more home runs but his home games are in a large park, where he plays a rangy center field. He plays with an exuberance that inspires teammates and attracts fans.
The other main contender in the NL is, of all things, a pitcher: Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers. Tradition has it that the MVP shall be an everyday player, because how can a pitcher be a true team leader?
But a pitcher, Justin Verlander, was the American League MVP in 2011. Baseball is an increasingly sabermetric game, and Kershaw has the sabermetrics. He’s 8.1 Wins Above Replacement, compared to Stanton’s 6.4 and McCutchen’s 5.6.
In the American League, the most dominating player is Mike Trout, 23-year-old centerfielder of the Angels, the AL’s WAR leader (7.8) who in the all-important On Base Plus Slugging metric is .945. That looks pretty close to perfect, though he put up better numbers last year when he was runner-up to Miguel Cabrera as MVP.
May Trout stay healthy. Baseball needs young superstars like Stanton and Trout, great by any metric.
Click here for Tim Brown of Yahoo Sports: “Clayton Kershaw strengthens his case. . .”